Wyoming now the 16th state giving families the power to direct public education funding

With Gov. Mark Gordon’s signature, Wyoming is now the 16th to place public education funding in the hands of parents.

As he signed HB 166 into law, Gordon struck one of its unique features and called attention to an under-appreciated opportunity for the education choice movement.

Gordon used a line-item veto to limit the program to families earning below 150% of the federal poverty level. Under the bill that passed the Legislature, scholarships would have been available to families with higher incomes, with funding amounts reduced on a sliding scale.

However, Gordon argued scholarships for those families could run afoul of a unique provision in Wyoming’s constitution, which says the state cannot “loan or give its credit or make donations to or in aid of any individual, association or corporation, except for necessary support of the poor.”

In his message explaining his actions, Gordon also praised a provision requiring the state to set aside a fifth of the available scholarships for preschool students, a significant expansion of early learning in a state with limited publicly funded preschool programs. 

“By providing families access to various educational services, including pre-kindergarten programs, the ESA program has the potential to enhance the early learning experiences of children across the state,” he wrote, and as a result, “this legislation has the potential to expand access to high-quality early childhood education for Wyoming’s children, especially those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.”

Targeting younger learners may be an untapped opportunity for advocates in other states looking to give parents more power to direct education funding.

Gordon has also enlisted Wyoming’s school districts to design a major overhaul of public education, which includes more opportunities for learning outside the classroom and flexible use of learning time.

“While this legislation may pose challenges for the K-12 public school system, it may also bring the benefits associated with increased competition,” he wrote.

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BY Travis Pillow

Travis Pillow is Director of Thought Leadership at Step Up For Students and editor of NextSteps. He lives in Sanford, Fla. with his wife and two children. A former Tallahassee statehouse reporter, he most recently worked at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a research organization at Arizona State University, where he studied community-led learning innovation and school systems' responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. He can be reached at tpillow (at) sufs.org.

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